My Blog

Whatever rings Mel's bells

Archive for September, 2011

Class Warfare

I just read an article quoting (yet another) wealthy Republican politician on tax policy.  As usual, he claimed that raising taxes on high earners ‘class warfare,’ and cited his own proposed policy of flat taxation, meaning that everyone would pay the same percentage rate.  He made the claim that it’s fair because there are no loopholes and “Everybody gets treated the same.”

So apparently all the tax credits and tax deductions that make our tax code so complex should be removed.  Okay, let’s run with this for a minute.  Families with low incomes and multiple children will no longer get tax credits.  Homeowners would no longer be able to deduct mortgage interest payments.  Students would no longer get tax credits on their student loan interest.  That’s pretty much telling the middle class to bend over, as far as I’m concerned.

Now, I guess I’m too lazy (and too fed up with political doublespeak) to read a bunch of this gentleman’s talking points and suss out what he would answer to my objections.  But I think most folks who buy into this bilge would respond that rich folks wouldn’t be able to reduce their income either.  So everybody would pay 9% (according to this particular plan) of their income in taxes, across the board, right?  Eminently fair, right?  Puts everybody on the same playing field, right?

After all, none of us really pay the 15% or 28% or 33% that the IRS tax tables start with, do we?  We all use every tax break we can get our hands on to reduce that bottom line.

Except that most of the wealthy who avoid taxes don’t do so the same way low- or middle-income people do.  Low income earners pay less in taxes mostly because they’re in lower tax brackets, a nod to the fact that they barely make enough money to survive in the first place.  Middle income earners can reduce their tax bills somewhat because of certain types of spending they do, on homes or student loans or medical bills – and because those are deemed necessary but burdensome costs, the tax code (again) is set to give them a break where they need it most.

High income earners, on the other hand, aren’t eligible for many of the tax breaks available to their poorer counterparts.  When they reduce their income to avoid taxes, it’s usually done by offsetting business or investment losses.  That’s right, they make bad decisions that lose them money (money they don’t actually need to survive) and they get rewarded for it with tax breaks.

Saying that all the “loopholes” are equal completely ignores the reasons for each of those “loopholes.”  They do not exist for the same reasons and they do not have the same effects.

Tax breaks for lower-income families result in more spending.  Why?  Because these are people who already have to spend every penny they get to survive, and each of those pennies has a half dozen places it could go.  So pretty much any tax refunds they get are spent right away.

Tax breaks for middle-income families result in more spending and a bit more saving, because these folks usually have most of their needs met, but they still have a lot of wants.  Not to mention, they are able to plan for the future, so they are more likely to put tax refunds toward things like retirement and their kids’ college tuition.  So again, this money either goes right back into the economy or is saved to be spent later on specific, planned things.

Tax breaks for upper-income families, however, don’t generally take the form of annual refunds.  They take the form of lower taxes paid, and they don’t help anybody but the rich themselves.  They don’t boost the economy, they don’t offset government assistance that would otherwise be needed.  The only moral reason to keep them is the argument that the government should get anybody’s money.  And even the Tea Party isn’t ready to say that yet.

So all this talk about class warfare is actually the pot calling the kettle black.  The rich and powerful (who make the rules) are scared that the rest of us (who let them) will require them to pay their fair share.  Take one for the team.  Get a little skin in the game.  However you want to put it, the same idea remains.  Contribute something of value that will help this country survive.

Face it, trickle-down economics does not work.  That theory assumes that people at all socioeconomic levels spend the same way, which is patently false.  We need to discard the idea that the rich will save us all, accept the uncomfortable idea that those of us who are able to do more are going to have to do more, and get on with it already.

‘Cause things are getting ugly and the American public is getting real tired of this.

Cited article can be found at http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/ticket/cain-nearly-quit-campaign-florida-straw-poll-says-115734617.html

Coffee Fest part deux

IT.  WAS.  EPIC.

We missed Saturday unfortunately, due to a decided lack of sleep on my part, and Rosi missed Sunday due to a previous engagement.  But still, it was awesome.

Friday we dressed casual and sat in a bunch of seminars.  Learned SO MUCH!  One of the classes was a short version of “Barista 101” which I wished had lasted 10x as long.  Another one wasn’t so good; the presentation had no flow to it and the guy jumped around a lot, but at the same time I have to cut him some slack b/c his laptop had been stolen out of his car the night before.

Then we hit the show floor and checked out some of the vendors.  I’ll be honest with you, we got ignored a lot.  We were surrounded by snappily dressed people who looked like professionals, and we didn’t really feel comfortable.  But we got a little info, and we got a feel for what was where.

Saturday I was soooooo tired that I just gave up on the whole thing.  I feel really bad for Rosi, she got up and get ready and headed down to the ferry, only to have me bail on her.  Mea culpa, seeester!  🙁  It’s really too bad, too, b/c there was a Retailers Roundtable that I was very interested in attending.

But Sunday was really fun.  I ended up on a later ferry than I expected due to a few last-minute things, so I missed the first couple classes I wanted to attend.  Then, the buses in Seattle were rerouted due to the President’s visit, and our driver missed a turn!  So I ended up walking an extra four blocks or so, which made me late for the last class I was really interested in taking.  Fortunately, I got there in time for the Latte Art championship.  I hadn’t planned to attend that at all, but I figured it might be interesting, and the convention wasn’t open yet anyways.  It was so fun!  I ended up sitting near the mom of one of the baristas, and we got to chatting as the contest went on.  It turns out that she beads too!  So I’ll be letting her know when we open the store, and she’ll come visit.  Her son won the competition, and I had a little geek-out moment and got a photo of the two of them, which was funny.

I was so impressed with the art tho.  There are four basic shapes they can pour: circles, hearts, tulips, and rosettas.  They can also add details by dragging the foam or adding syrup, but for this content they only poured the designs.  Sometimes the two baristas in a heat would do very similar designs, other times they would do completely different things.  But it was all amazing.  Made me want to learn it myself!  Perhaps we’ll come up with a design for our store, maybe something evocative of our logo…

After my experience Friday, I decided to dress up a bit more for Sunday.  I took nice shoes to change into, wore jewelry, did my hair nice, etc.  Sure enough, I got a lot more attention from the vendors.  My goal for Sunday was to talk to roasters, which I did quite successfully.  Got a bunch of contact info, took it down to a short list of 4-5 to follow up with.  Accepted offers of lattes and espresso and all sorts of coffee…  And guess what?  I discovered that (while I can’t really tell good coffee from bad coffee) I no longer get the funky headaches!  So I became a coffee drinker today.

At about 1 (I think) I took a break to sit down and see if I’d missed anything I wanted to see.  When I came out of the convention floor, I noticed that everybody was at the windows looking at something.  I popped over and saw that the streets under us had been blocked off.  Not three minutes later, the President’s motorcade passed right under us, on the way to the Paramount.  So I guess my unplanned detour wasn’t for nothing, right?

Short story long, I got a bunch of goodies, and a bunch of information, and even some potential customers.  All in all, it was an extremely useful weekend.

Oh, and as I was waiting for the ferry, I got to hear the cheers from the stadium, telling me that my Seahawks finally won a game.  Huzzah!

No bueno

My cat Gumby (my little boy, my only child, my closest-thing-to-a-son-I-will-ever-have) has been sick lately.  As in, he’s been vomiting a lot in the past week.  At first I thought he’d found some plastic bags to chew on (which he had) so I didn’t think much of it.  But he kept doing it, which worried me.  Then yesterday he did it, and there was nothing but bile.  That’s not healthy.

So I put him in the kitty carrier (no mean feat) and took his whiny little butt down to the vet.

Bad news.  Very bad news.

It turns out that my little guy has heart disease.

His heart is so big that it’s compressing his lungs, pushing his esophagus out of place, causing irritation in his brochial tubes, and otherwise messing up all his innards.

Of course, this explains the two episodes when I thought he had seizures; they both occurred after he’d been very active.  And I gotta tell you, Dr. Choi at All Creatures Animal Hospital is great.  She suggested before that it might be a cardiopulmonary issue, but b/c Gumby wasn’t showing any other symptoms we decided to just monitor him.

Well, at any rate, she prescribed me meds that he’ll have to take for the rest of his life.  However much of it there is.  I asked about a prognosis for the future and she said sometimes they live a few years, sometimes they don’t last very long at all.  Hopefully we’ll have a better idea after we do a follow-up in a week or so.

I’m really torn up about it tho.  He’s my little boy.  He’s literally the only thing I asked for when Eric and I divorced.  I always knew I’d have to see him die.  I mean, cats just don’t live nearly as long as people do.  But I didn’t expect it to be anytime soon.

I’m really sad right now.

Coffee Fest

This weekend is Coffee Fest Seattle!  I’m really excited to be going, since I actually know just about nothing in regards to coffee.  Well, I know that it gives me funny headaches, and I know that I’m going to be selling it in my store.  But most importantly, I know that I need to know more about it.

So I am therefore devoting the weekend to learning about coffee.  Rosi and I will be spending 2-3 days at the Convention Center in Seattle, attending workshops, trying to find suppliers, etc.  Hopefully we’ll at least get an idea of what’s out there.

You’ll probably get one lump description at the end, since I’ll be playing my last two gigs with No Baggage this weekend.  So I won’t have much time for blogging, or anything else for that matter.  “Albert?  Who’s Albert?”

Another reason I love science

So last post I wrote about how great it is when you’re wrong.  Specifically, how great it is when you realize you’re wrong, and you figure out how to fix it so you’re right again.

After I wrote that, I got to thinking about why else I love science, which is the scientific community.  That’s right, all those nerds with pocket protectors and coke-bottle glasses with tape on them.  They’re my buds!

If you recall, it all starts with a question in your mind, which you answer with a hypothesis.  You then use that hypothesis to predict what will happen next, and if you’re right then it lends credence to your hypothesis.

This is where experimentation comes in.  So what does it take to create a good scientific experiment?  First, it has to be observable.  In other words, is has to be available to the senses of anybody who is interested.  For example, if I say that I can communicate telepathically with aliens and perform dozens of experiments in which I write down the contents of the telepathic conversations I have, my research will not be taken seriously.  (Note that this actually doesn’t prove I didn’t talk to aliens, it just means that I have no evidence.  Which is why the burden of proof is on the positive side of things.  You don’t have to prove I didn’t talk to them, you can just say, “That’s nice,” and get the hell out of Dodge.)

Second, it has to be repeatable.  I have to be able to perform the same experiment over and over again, and get the same results each time I perform it.  This ensures that the answer you got was not the result of an aberration.  In other words, repetition shows that you got a real result, not a fluke.

Third, it has to be controllable – you have to be able to change things about the experiment to figure out what’s really going on.  For example, you can hypothesize that the protective outer coating of a seed also makes it harder for the seed to sprout.  So you might plant a bunch of seeds that you’ve nicked to see if they sprout faster than intact ones.  In this experiment, you can plant some seeds that you nicked on the bottom, some that you nicked on the top, some that you nicked on the side or end, and some (a ‘control group’) that you didn’t nick at all.  This way, you get to observe how the different actions change the outcome, and you therefore learn even more.

(Keep in mind that this does not in any way discount the value of observational studies, where the hypothesis cannot be actively tested but can only be supported or disproved by observation.  In fact, there are many branches of science where observation is the only way to experiment.  Theories found by observation are no less true or trustworthy than those found by intentional and active experiments.  Even though some people like to think they are.  Ahem, climate change deniers…)

So what’s so incredibly cool about scientific experimentation?  Well, since the knowledge you get is gained from repeatable and observable and controllable actions, it’s accessible to everyone.  EVERYONE.

Yep, universal knowledge is real!  If I say XYZ is true, and this is how I found out about it, the skeptic in another city or state or on the other side of the world can perform the same experiment and see if I’m off my rocker.  And if it doesn’t work, than s/he can say, “This doesn’t work, I tried it.”  Then I can come back and ask if s/he controlled for ABC factor, or used UV protective glass, and why those would have affected the results.  So then my friendly little skeptic can try it again taking those factors into consideration, and suddenly ts/he says, “Holy crap, it does work!”

See?  It’s not that I was wrong, it’s that the methodology used was wrong.  But since all the details of my experiment can be compared to all the details of his/her experiment, we can compare notes and figure out why we got different results.  And then we find – THE TRUTH.

Hot damn, that’s fun!

Remember, if other ppl can’t verify your work, then you might as well not even do it.  Because science is at heart a peer-reviewed undertaking.  Medical and scientific journals?  That’s my pocket-protecting heroes’ way of saying, “Prove me wrong.”  If nobody can, then it really is right!  If somebody does…  Well I guess that’s the point we go back and figure out what went wrong, huh?

And as I wrote in my last post, that’s a good thing in and of itself.

Why I love science

Philosophy is divided into three categories: metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.  I will briefly (and very imprecisely) define these as what is real, how we learn about it, and whether it’s good or bad.

Epistemology is basically the means by which you find and explore truth; the means you employ to find out about the world around you.  Personally I am an empiricist, which means different things to different people (Of course philosophy isn’t confusing, what makes you say that?) but to me it indicates an emphasis on observable reality as a means to find truth.  In other words, we learn what is in the world by observing it and interacting with it  So I’m more likely to believe what you tell me now if you’ve told me things in the past that turned out to be true.

I also put a lot of stock in science as a way to understand the world.  After all, one of the basic components of the scientific method is observation.  In fact, that’s how it all starts.  You observe a phenomenon and describe what you observe.  Then, you formulate a hypothesis to explain it – an idea that you *think* is the cause.  Third, you predict what else will happen if your hypothesis is correct, and last you perform experiments to test your hypothesis.  (Some people mistakenly equate a hypothesis with a theory; in fact, a theory is a hypothesis that has been tested many times and passed said tests.  Theories are much more certain than simple guesses.)

This method of learning about reality can be applied in an incredible variety of ways.  You can use it in your garden to figure out what flowers grow best; in your dating life to find out what potential romantic interests want; at work to get a promotion; and on your children to see what gets them to heed their curfew.

Of course, it isn’t always the best method of deciding on your next action.  You will probably want to consult a garden book, your wingman, an article about climbing the corporate ladder, a parenting class, or even just Dear Abby, first.  After all, why not try to learn from others’ mistakes and successes first?  At least then you might learn fewer things the hard way…

But sooner or later you say, “I wonder what would happen if,” and you can’t find the answer anywhere.  So you decide to figure it out for yourself.  You decide to try telling jokes as a way to break the ice with the ladies.  Girls enjoy a good laugh, right?  Make ’em chuckle and maybe they’ll accept a second date.

So you memorize a few jokes and head down to your favorite watering hole.  Sure enough, it works!  You leave that night with a pretty girl’s phone number and a date for next Friday.  Success!  The date goes great Friday – for a little while.  Halfway through the salad, the laughter becomes forced and she’s looking around the room instead of at you.  What went wrong?

This is one of my favorite parts of science.  That’s right!  My favorite thing about science is that it leaves room for you to be wrong.  Because you’re supposed to be wrong sometimes!

And that’s where the real learning comes in.  You excuse yourself from the table for a moment, go to the restroom and reflect a little.  Does she not like the jokes?  Did I offend her?  There’s no politics, no religion, no cursing.  (Okay, the one about the duck was a little blue, but that’s the one she laughed hardest at!)  Maybe she’s getting tired of the joking, maybe she wants to talk about something real.  Hmm, she has mentioned the decor of the restaurant three times.  And I think she’s some kind of art major.  Oh, I’ve been telling jokes all night, and monopolizing the conversation!  No wonder she looks bored!

So then the light goes on, and you revise your idea of telling jokes.  When you get back to the table, you ask her if she saw the sculpture by the entrance.  Her eyes light up and suddenly she’s interested again.  Success!

What have you done?  You have ERRED!!  Your knowledge that jokes are good and get you attention was incomplete, and you had to admit to yourself that your knowledge was not sufficient to explain the situation.  But good for you, you were able to adjust a proven belief (girls like funny guys) in the light of new evidence (just telling jokes is not enough to keep her interest) and change your understanding of reality to conform to what you observe.

Thus we see the beauty of science – when done correctly it is self-correcting.  Any time the evidence contradicts our understanding of the world, we must re-examine our understanding to take the evidence into account.  Our beliefs must conform to the world, not the other way around.

And that is one of the greatest strengths of science.  As long as you look at the world clearly, you will be able to find truth.  It may be difficult, it may be time-consuming, it may be frustrating.  But as it has been said, the truth is out there.